Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Manchester City 0 Arsenal 2

Going into the game, Arsenal were underdogs with almost all the pundits and journalists alike giving no chance of the north London club's overcoming the champions on the basis of their poor record against top teams away from home (apart from Glen Hoddle who surprisingly wrote that he fancied Arsenal at least getting a draw). In the last season's corresponding fixture, Manuel Pellegrini's side beat us 6-3, but the final score did not reflect the two sides' performances. We had two legitimate goals disallowed and a strong penalty claim was turned down, while Manchester City were awarded a dubious penalty towards the end. In addition, on the back of Arsenal's strong performance against Stoke City last time out, we were fairly optimistic. In fact, a few of our members were confident of coming away with all three points.

Arsene Wenger made two changes to the side that started in Arsenal's comfortable 3-0 win over Stoke a week earlier. Hector Bellerin replaced Mathieu Debuchy who had undergone a surgery on his dislocated shoulder during the week. As we hoped, Wenger picked the Spanish teenager for the vacant right back spot, which meant Calum Chambers sat on the bench after recovering from the illness that ruled him out of the Stoke game. Aaron Ramsey came in for Tomas Rosicky. David Ospina retained his place in the starting XI. Once again, we had the strong-looking bench with Ozil, Walcott, Rosicky, Flamini, Szczesny and Gibbs all at Arsene Wenger's disposal.

The starting lineup looked similar to the attack-minded set-up against Stoke last weekend. In fact, Arsenal adopted the same 4-1-4-1 formation, but this time around they sat deep in their own half. The most obvious difference from the previous game was Aresne Wenger's approach to the game. It was refreshing to see the Frenchman change his tactics according to the opposition. His gameplan was to deny Man City's attacking players space and attack on the break. We knew this was the way to win away from home against a good offensive side like Man City, but our defensive frailty was the hindrance. We thought we didn't have strong enough defence to fend off the waves of attacks for a full 90 minutes, but Arsene Wenger's side proved us wrong.

As Aaron Ramsey stated in his post-match interview, Arsenal were often too open in these big games, which was the major cause for the heavy defeats to our title rivals last season. The high defensive line with two full-backs bombing forward proved to be suicidal. However, they prepared very well this time. The team executed Arsene Wenger's gameplan with precision. They defended with concentration, commitment and organisation. The team kept their shape compact and never allowed gaps between the two centre-backs or between the back-four and midfield. Our defenders were never exposed. Arsenal's impeccable defensive display stunned everybody, including Manuel Pellegrini who was taken aback by the fact that the Gunners were capable of playing a defensive game. It was a totally different game from Arsenal's brand of possession-based passing football.

Santi Cazorla won all the plaudits and rightly so. His quick transition from defence to attack played a vital role in the success of Wenger's new approach. Another outstanding player was Francis Coquelin who played a defensive enforcer role in front of the back four. Arsenal have been accused of the lack of defensive leaders since the departure of Patrick Vieira or Giberto, but the 24-year-old midfielder was often seen this day sending instructions to his more experienced team-mates and organising defence against set-pieces. Who would have imagined this when he was sent on loan to Charlton in November after unsuccessful loan spells for the last two seasons? It was an incredible turnaround in his career since he was called back from Charlton at the beginning of December.

One of the talking points apart from those two stand-out players' performances was the referee's penalty decision. When we first saw it, we couldn't believe the fact that our bogey referee, Mike Dean, had actually given us a penalty. Some say that it was a soft penalty, while naturally Pellegrini disagreed with the decision. Most of people seemed to have agreed with the decision at the first glance (and that was all that the referee had to base his decision on). Gary Neville blamed Kompany's rustiness for leaving his leg out in Monreal's way.

It was an accomplished performance from the Gunners, but Wenger pointed out that there was still room for improvement. Arsenal's two goals came from set-pieces, but they had chances to score from open play as well. Aaron Ramsey had a great chance, but his left-footed shot flew over the cross bar. Alexis' 20-yard curling shot was palmed away by Joe Hart. If Flamini had crossed in his first touch, Giroud would have had an easy tap-in. Bitter Man City fans say that Arsenal parked the bus, but it was Arsenal who had more clear-cut chances from open play. We played a more open game at the start of the second half and started to look a bit vulnerable but after about 20 minutes regained their discipline. On this day, two goals from set-pieces were enough to claim three points against the champions on the strength of our flawless defensive display, but with more clinical finishing, we could have sealed the victory earlier.

Partly thanks to the two-goal cushion, Arsenal controlled the last 20 minutes of the game very well. It was a very professional display with a textbook approach to run down the clock and see out the victory. Not being able to hold on to the lead had been another criticism this season.

We are obviously delighted with the result as the three points were vital after all the teams around us won earlier this weekend. On top of that, the most pleasing prospect is that the media will stop reminding us that we had not beaten big teams away from home in recent seasons. Hopefully, the team will build on this victory and go on a consistent run of form from now on.

Players ratings

Ospina: 7
He was totally bystander in the first half and only made a couple of saves in the second half, but we like his commanding and calming presence in the box. He is still to be tested (a lot of people said before the match that this would be a stern test based on the scorelines in last season's corresponding fixture and this season's reverse fixture), but there is no reason for Wenger to drop him as he did nothing wrong. Kept his third clean sheet in as many appearances.

Bellerin: 8

Made 2 tackles, 6 interceptions and 7 clearances. Disciplined display.

Mertesacker: 7
Looked solid, but it's worrying that he makes uncharacteristic stray passes and poor clearances at times these days.

Koscielny: 8
Kept Sergio Aguero quiet between him and Per. Despite being shown a yellow card early in the game, he kept the discipline and never looked troubled. In one of few moments Man City looked close to scoring a goal, he made a crucial interception in front of Aguero. 

Monreal: 9
Had a good game. Made 6 tackles, 8 interceptions, and 9 clearances. 
His run into the box after a one-two with Giroud resulted in a successful penalty claim.

Coquelin: 9

Outstanding performance. Mashalled David Silva very well.

Ramsey: 7
Got in great positions going forward, but clearly lacked pace and sharpness. That said, he was instrumental in our midfield solidity, making 5 tackles, 3 interceptions and 2 clearances. Shielded our back-four well alongside Coquelin. He suffered cramp and was replaced by Flamini in the 84th minute.

Cazorla: 10

Got on the scoresheet with a powerful spot-kick into the right-hand bottom corner and set up the second with an perfectly-weighted free kick. He was the difference between the two sides. Thankfully, we had a creative maestro in Santi. His current form is even better than his first season as his defensive contribution is added to his performances now.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7

Worked hard. Replaced by Rosicky in the 66th minute.

Alexis: 7
Not his best game partly due to tight marking by City players. He held the ball too long only to be closed down by a group of Man City players. Replaced by Gibbs in the 84th minute.

Giroud: 8
Held the ball well and won his aerial duels impressively (7 of them). Scored his 7th goal this season. Created 3 chances for his team-mates.


Rosicky: 7
Came in for the Ox in the 66th minute. Had 1 shot which was off target and made 2 interceptions.

Flamini: 6
Replaced Ramsey in the 84th minute. Made a good run and muscled out Clichy into the box but his cross was blocked by Kompany.

Gibbs: 6
Came off the bench to replace Alexis in the 84th minute.

No comments:

Post a Comment